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Dede Allen dies at 86; editor revolutionized imagery, sound and pace in U.S. films

Her work on 1967's 'Bonnie and Clyde' ushered in a new aesthetic that's now the standard in American film. She earned Oscar nominations for 'Dog Day Afternoon,' 'Reds' and 'Wonder Boys.'

April 18, 2010|Claudia Luther
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Dede Allen, the film editor whose seminal work on Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" in 1961 and especially on Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 brought a startling new approach to imagery, sound and pace in American movies, died Saturday. She was 86.

Allen, who was nominated for Academy Awards for "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), "Reds" (1981) and "Wonder Boys" (2000), died at her Los Angeles home days after having a stroke, said her son, Tom Fleischman.

DeDe Allen obituary: In Sunday's California section, the obituary of DeDe Allen said she was the first film editor to receive sole credit on a movie for her work. Allen was the first film editor to have a solo credit appear on screen alone at the beginning of a film. The article also said Allen was born in Cincinnati. She was born in Cleveland. --

Allen was the first film editor -- male or female -- to receive sole credit on a movie for her work. The honor came with "Bonnie and Clyde," a film in which Allen raised the level of her craft to an art form that was as seriously discussed as cinematography or even directing.

"She was just an extraordinary collaborator, and in the course of editing that film, I came to develop confidence in Dede," Penn told The Times on Saturday. "Indeed, she wasn't an editor, she was a constructionist."

The two were "not just collaborators," Penn said, "but deep family friends. We made six films together."

Greg S. Faller, professor of film studies at Towson University in Maryland, said "The Hustler" and "Bonnie and Clyde" "must be considered benchmark films in the history of editing."

"It's hard to see the changes she made because most of what she did has been so fully embraced by the industry," Faller said.

Allen departed from the standard Hollywood way of cutting -- making smooth transitions starting with wide shots establishing place and characters and going on to medium shots and finally close-ups -- by beginning with close-ups or jump cuts. Although these editing methods had been pioneered by the French new wave and some British directors, Allen is generally credited with being the first to use and shape them in American film.

In Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon," she employed a staccato tempo, sometimes called shock cutting.

"She creates this menacing quality by not cutting where you'd expect it -- she typically would cut sooner than you might expect," Faller said. "You weren't ready for it."

She would also begin the sound from the next scene while the previous scene was still playing, a technique now standard in film editing.

In all, Allen edited or co-edited 20 major motion pictures over 40 years, but she was most closely identified with Penn and a handful of A-list directors such as Rossen, Lumet and George Roy Hill and actor-directors Paul Newman, Warren Beatty and Robert Redford.

Besides "Bonnie and Clyde," which was produced by Beatty and starred Beatty and Faye Dunaway, Allen's films for Penn included "Alice's Restaurant," "Little Big Man," "Night Moves" and "The Missouri Breaks."

She edited Lumet's "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Wiz"; Hill's "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Slap Shot"; Newman's "Rachel, Rachel" and "Harry & Son"; Beatty's "Reds" (with Craig McKay, who shared the Oscar nomination) and Redford's "The Milagro Beanfield War."

But it was the violent tale based on the true story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow -- lovers and robbers on the run during the Great Depression -- that secured her place as a pioneer in film.

Hardly a chase scene or violent sequence filmed since "Bonnie and Clyde" has not been a reference to Allen's distinct style, which she developed under Penn's direction.

"What we essentially were doing," Penn said Saturday, "was developing a rhythm for the film so that it has the complexity of music."

The famed final ambush scene in which Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down on a gravel road in rural Louisiana contains more than 50 cuts, though it lasts less than a minute. At Penn's urging, Allen and her assistant, Jerry Greenberg, employed slow motion at some points and faster speed at others, creating a tense, violent and balletic conclusion.

Although the film initially left some movie critics in near-apoplectic disapproval of its mix of comedy and graphic violence, Pauline Kael, writing in the New Yorker magazine, called it "excitingly American."

Kael had special praise for the movie's editing, especially the "rag-doll dance of death" at the end of the picture, which she called "brilliant."

"It is a horror that seems to go on for eternity, and yet it doesn't last a second beyond what it should," Kael wrote.

In his review in 1967, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert called it "a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance."

Kael's review and other critical praise prompted many to reevaluate the film, which in 1998 was listed at No. 27 on the American Film Institute's list of the "100 Greatest American Movies of All Time."

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